Russian Hacking: Implications for U.S. Agriculture

By Maria Onofrio

Thu, 5 Jul 2018

There have been warnings this week over the digital safety of U.S. Agriculture amidst concerns over Russia’s hacking capabilities.

“The Russian government and military are quietly probing our nation’s computer systems that control our critical infrastructures,” said Bob Norton, chair of the Auburn University Food System Institute’s Food and Water Defense Working Group.

He is a long-standing consultant to the U.S. military and federal and state law enforcement agencies.

The Food and Agriculture Sector is one of the 16 critical infrastructures identified by the Department of Homeland Security.

This means that it is a sector “whose assets, systems and networks are considered so vital to the United States that their incapacitation or destruction would have a debilitating effect on security, national economic security, national public health or safety, or any combination thereof.”

The purpose of the Russian hacking is to learn how our systems work and find out which larger networks are connected to them. They use discreet, cyber-probing activities as the door to larger corporate and government computer systems. This would allow them to access financial data, online identities and more.

Norton says that this probing can remain hidden and be activated if the two countries entered into hostilities or conflict.

This follows the joint ‘Technical Alert’ issued by the FBI, DHS and NCSC regarding malicious cyber activity being carried out explicitly by the Russian government.

In this report from April, the organisations warned that Russian state-sponsored actors are using compromised routers to conduct spoofing ‘man-in-the-middle’ attacks to support espionage, extract intellectual property, maintain persistent access to victim networks, and potentially lay a foundation for future offensive operations.

However, this is the first time that the threat to U.S. Agriculture has been singled out as being particularly susceptible to these threats.

“These clandestine probing efforts could be weaponized to shut down computer systems and even destroy the power grid, the food supply chain, water plants and wastewater plants. Equipment associated with farm operations, processing plants, irrigation and other operations could become targets”, Norton also claims.

Ultimately, “The most likely scenario would be for malware to destroy industrial control systems, which would cause food production to come to a screeching halt for a period of time”

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Maria Onofrio

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